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Gospel is preached, says our Lord; the most perfect scheme of morality that ever mankind was acquainted with.
4. It is yet a further recommendation of such miracles, if they can carry in them marks not only of an astonishing power, but of good-will also, and beneficence to men; as the healing of the blind, the lepers, and the lame, here in the text, manifestly did.
5. If the very doing of them was foretold, and the time and person declared by the spirit of prophecy, for so I have shewn that our Saviour, in his account of the mighty works here done, referred himself to the predictions of Isaiah.
6. If there be no appearances of self-interest and design in the worker of such miracles; and this objection our Lord also removes, where he says, that the poor had the Gospel preached unto them; the poor to whom no man would apply, who proposed to himself temporal views and aims, which they, alas! could no ways forward.
Thus have I endeavoured to open to you, very largely, the significancy of each word in this important passage; and particularly the wonderful address of our Lord, in applying himself to those who resorted to him for instruction, and in reasoning them into conviction by arguments and suggestions peculiarly accommodated to the notions and apprehensions they were under. Our chief business indeed, from such places as these, is, to inculcate into the minds of Christians the practical lessons of piety contained in the Gospel; to convince them of the reasonableness, beauty and usefulness of those precepts; and to inflame them with ardent desires of excelling therein. However, such speculative inquiries as these have also their use, and may sometimes deserve a place in your minds; as contributing to raise your attention in perusing the several parts of Holy Writ, and to improve and quicken you in your manner of meditating upon them; and as assisting you towards a discovery of those inestimable treasures of divine wisdom, which are hidden in that sacred volume. We generally, I fear, consult the Scriptures too negligently, and reflect on them too superficially, with no greater degree of attention and care, than we employ in perusing mere human composures, (and I would to God we employed always as much in the one case as in the other!) We do not sufficiently consider, who it is that speaks to us there, nor what it is that he says: What weight, what fulness of sense, what excellent variety of matter, and wonderful depth of thought, there must needs be in words dictated by, or at least spoken under, the overruling influence of infinite wisdom. And therefore, though the Scriptures are read every day in our churches (and sometimes perhaps consulted in our closets) yet we make but slow proficiency towards a true taste, and a clear discernment, of those high truths which are contained in them. We dwell on the letter only, on what offers itself to us at the first view; but we do not make ourselves acquainted with the life and spirit of them. And yet for this reason, among others, these holy writings were left us by God, that we might, as good David speaks, exercise ourselves in them day and night, have perpetual matter for our inquiries into, and improvements in, the knowledge of things divine, and drink always of these waters of life, without either allaying our thirst, or exhausting the spring from whence they flow.
The difference between the Holy Scriptures and other writings, is much the same as that between the works of art and nature. The works of art appear to most advantage at first; but will not bear a nice and repeated examination. The more curiously we pry into them, the less we shall admire them. But the works of nature will bear a thousand views and reviews, and yet still be instructive and still wonderful. In like manner the writings of mere men, though never so excellent in their kind, yet strike and surprise us most upon our first perusal of them; and then flatten upon our taste by degrees, as our familiarity with them increases.
Whereas the word of revelation is, like its Author, of an endless and unsearchable perfection ; and the more we look into it, and revolve it in our minds, the more reason still shall we find to admire and adore the wisdom of the great Revealer of it.
I have therefore hinted to you some thoughts concerning the drift of our Saviour's reasoning, and the peculiar appositeness of it in relation to the persons who made the inquiry in the text; that I might excite you from thence to meditate in like manner on the other parts of the Book of God which are equally profitable for doctrine, and able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus, 2 Tim. ii. 15.
Wherefore, search the Scriptures, for as in them ye have eternal life, so have ye room also for an eternal growth and improvement in that knowledge, which leads to it; in that knowledge, which we can here attain unto in part only, but shall hereafter, when the veil of this flesh is done away, more perfectly comprehend, and the more earnestly we aspire after it, and labour for it in this state of imperfection, the more exalted a degree of it shall we possess in another world. And do thou, « Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our instruction, grant that we may in such wise read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ."
PREACHED AT THE ROLLS, ON CHRISTMAS-DAY,
ON THE INCARNATION OF OUR LORD, Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.
MATTH. xi. 6. AND can any man then be offended in thee, blessed Jesus ! who hast undertaken, and done, and suffered, so much for all men! who willingly emptiedst thyself of all thy glory, leftest heaven and the bosom of thy Father, for our sakes ; and when thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, didst not, (as at this time), abhor the Virgin's womb! Can a design of so much goodness ever miscarry by the folly of those, on whose very account it was undertaken! Can such a message of love, (of a love astonishing and infinite), be rejected! Canst thou thyself, the great messenger, be received any otherwise, than with the open arms and hearts of all thy creatures, for whose redemption thou wert thus made flesh, and dwelledst among us! Is it possible for any one of them to be any ways offended in Thee !
Yet so it is, blessed Lord ! that from thy first coming in the flesh to this time, there have been unreasonable men all along, that have taken offence at thee! And there will not fail to be such within the pale of Christianity itself
, even till thy second coming to judge the world. Thy doctrines have been complained of, as laying too great a restraint on human nature, as hard and unpracticable sayings ! Thy mysteries have been doubted of, disputed against, and ridiculed, by men of perverse and proud minds, who are resolved to believe nothing farther than they can thoroughly and clearly comprehend it! Thy person itself, the circumstances and way of thy coming, have been an offence unto many! To the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness! 1 Cor. i. 23. A constant occasion of falling to all godless and sinful men, whose high minds are not brought into captivity to the obedience of faith, nor made fit for the reception of the truth, as it is in Jesus ! But blessed are all they (have thy holy lips pronounced) who, in none of these ways, are offended in thee !
As to the two former ways of being offended in Christ, on the account of the difficulty of practising those duties he has enjoined, and believing those articles of faith he hath proposed, I shall not at present enter into the consideration of them. The festival we are now celebrating, determines me rather to point my reflections on the offence which has been taken at the person of Christ, the method and manner of his coming amongst us. The objections of which kind I shall briefly propose, and answer; that so having rooted and grounded ourselves in a firm belief of the doctrine, we may with the more assurance, make those several improvements of it, which will be profitable unto godliness.
It hath formerly, by Porphyry and Celsus, and ever , since by their successors, the open or hidden enemies of Christianity, been thus argued :
That the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God is unreasonable and incredible; inconsistent with the clear notions we have of the unlimited perfections of God, and the finite properties of man; between which there is so wide and eternal a difference, as seems to render them incapable of being joined together in one and the same person or subject. For how can wisdom, perfection, and happiness itself, be mixed with folly, infirmity, and misery? what union can